Esmes Indie Highlights/SPFBO: Darkstorm by M. L. Spencer

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This is one of Kitty G’s semifinalists and this is her review, sort of, it has other books in the video as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cr7I0NsPXY

I really liked this book so it’ll be interesting to see which one Kitty picks in the end.


 

Plot:

Two factions of mages have been at war for millenia, Caladorn and Rhen both have mages but have separate schools and organizations and government. The cultures are completely different, and there hasn’t been any kind of good relations between the two factions for a long time. The story follows two brothers both from Caladorn, one stays in Caladorn and uses his status to the maximum and lays about all day with prostitutes, drugs, and booze. The other brother is an ambassador to Rhen trying to fix the relationship between the two nations. There are a couple other characters POV’s who intertwine with the brothers throughout the story.

There’s a lot of backstabbing, betraying, plotting and that sort of thing, you never know who your friends are and who to trust, even the POV’s motivations are sometimes muddy and you’re not sure what their end game is until it plays out.

This world uses portals to travel vast distances, and the antagonists in this book are trying to open a portal to hell. Not because they want demons and fire to rule the world, but because the magical polarity of this world is reversing, and it’s believed when it destabilizes that all the mages of the world, and all the magical objects will die or stop working. The theory is that the power from hell can stabilize the polarity and delay the eventual deaths of the mages by about 1000 years. The heroes of the story are trying to work for their own destruction by destroying the hellgate and therefore allowing the worlds magic to die, but sparing the larger population of non magical people.

Characters:

  • Braden – the ambassador brother, he has a very fleshed out back story and it’s a really interesting one, he actually came from a Steppe culture which I don’t see often in fantasy. They are not unlike the Dothraki in ASOIAF, a warring people with a culture centered around horses. He gets picked early in his life to go and study to be a mage in the city, and eventually rises to ambassador. He has several tragedies in his past, and I wasn’t sure through most of the book whether I liked him or not, but likeable or no, he was a very interesting character.
  • Sephana – a teacher at the magical university, a mentor to Merris, and Bradens love interest. She has a strong sense of morality and I really enjoyed her character. I love older, matured, reasonable characters over younger more brazen characters. Although she doesn’t quite hit “getting too old for this shit” she definitely came off as a well rounded and level headed character.
  • Merris – a young acolyte trying to rise through the ranks and get as much power as she can. At first you dont know what her motives are, but they reveal themselves as you go along. I didn’t ever really like this character, and I liked her less as the story went along, but you’re not supposed to like her, it was definitely done on purpose.
  • Quin – Bradens brother, also grew up on the Steppes. As it turns out his past is just as sordid and tragic as Bradens. He has several failed romances and his lifes work starts working against him in the worst of ways until he sort of breaks down and gives up on life. I don’t often see characters struggling with addiction issues, and I always enjoy it when it makes it into fantasy. He’s a severe alcoholic and probably drug dependent as well.

 

World Building:

Rhen and Caladorn are two very different cultures, and with the third Steppe culture introduced later on in the book the world felt very fleshed out, but it wasn’t overwhelming, there’s no info dumping which is nice.

Bryn Calazar, the main city for the Caladorn, and Aerysius the main city for the Rhen felt like real places and I enjoyed exploring them with the characters.

The magic system in the book seemed well realized and it flowed through the cultures and the characters seamlessly, everything seemed natural and I wasn’t confused about anything.

Pacing/Prose:

The prose was pretty utilitarian, again this isn’t a bad thing it made the book read quickly and “the prose got out of the way of the story” as it’s said. The pacing was fast, I got through this book quickly and there wasn’t anything that felt like it was dragging out or needed to be cut. This was one of the more polished books as well, there wasn’t anything glaring about editing, no repeated phrases or overused words, no spelling or grammar mistakes that I found.

Audience:

  • People who like multi POV with female POV
  • People who like a lot of mages/magic
  • People who like high stakes fantasy
  • People who like lots of action
  • People who like shorter fast paced books ~300 pages
  • People who like in depth and flawed characters

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